An interesting idea, but….

The idea of causing the consciousness of the entire human race to jump into the future for about two minutes is an amusing one. However, in this case, imagination has nothing to do with what can really happen in our world and, in particular, nothing that can ever be caused by the LHC operation. John Ellis, from the Theory group, explains why.

"I like science fiction; when I was a teenager I had a lot of it and I think that it actually contributed to my decision to eventually become a researcher in science", says John Ellis, CERN theoretical physicist.

In Robert Sawyer’s book, lead ion collisions at the LHC cause the whole of humankind to experience a flash-forward. However, although the LHC will be the first particle accelerator to collide heavy ions at an unprecedented (for experiments on Earth) energy, Nature does it every day and nothing terrible has ever happened. "It turns out that a large fraction of high energy cosmic rays is actually heavy nuclei", explains Ellis. "So, in fact, heavy ion experiments have been done by Nature also for billions of years. Nuclei, perhaps not as heavy as lead, but certainly as heavy as iron, have been striking the Earth’s atmosphere for billions of years. They have also been striking other astrophysical objects – things like neutron stars for example – and nothing cataclysmic has happened".

The way human consciousness works is a fascinating theme in itself. A lot of scientists from many different disciplines – including theoretical physics – are indeed studying the complex processes that go on in the brain. "I think it’s very important to understand how the brain works and the origin of consciousness. There has been some conjecture where quantum physics plays an essential role but I don’t see any evidence. It is not something that has directly to do with particle physics but certainly it is a very interesting speculation", concedes Ellis.

Science fact is very different from science fiction. The book is nevertheless interesting reading for scientists. Some of the LHC experimentalists must rue the fact that seeing the Higgs boson is not quite as simple as Sawyer describes. And, not that it’s a big deal, but in FlashForward the Higgs boson comes out of lead ion collisions …

Watch the full video interview with John Ellis: